Breakaway Cook

Breakaway Matcha Ceramics

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that the custom-designed matcha ceramics are finally here! Our humble little office has never looked happier, surrounded with boxes of these  lovely little pieces  . . . they’ll soon be featured on the all-new website, which I hope to launch in the second week of March, but if anyone is interested in pricing or other details, let me know.

This ceramics project started last fall, when I approached the renowned ceramicist Aletha Soule with an idea for custom-made matcha ceramics. Why did I need/want ceramics made for matcha? The internet is full of lovely matcha bowls — and some of them are really dazzling in their beauty — but those bowls are designed to accommodate traditional hand whisking of matcha; that is to say, you need a wide, shallow surface to properly whisk the matcha with a chasen, or traditional bamboo whisk. (They do make sensational oatmeal bowls, however.)

As many of you know, I vastly prefer the handheld electric whisk/milk frother to the bamboo one. The depth and extent of the crema/creaminess achieved with the Aerolatte (my preference, and the only one available at Breakaway Matcha) is leagues better than what is achievable with the traditional chasen. But if you try whisking matcha with the Aerolatte in a traditional matcha bowl, you end up with a very messy kitchen and a very green shirt, because the matcha just flies up and out of the bowl. So I needed a different shape, one that could accommodate electric whisking. You can see the shape and glaze colors we went with (which we’re calling blush, celedon, and eggshell) in the photo above.  The shape allows you to whip up a perfectly frothed cup of matcha in just a few seconds. It then gets poured into these cups:

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Aletha and I designed these cups to be off-center and slightly wabisabi; the glazes resemble a satin matte. The fit in the hand is ridiculously comfortable and right. The cups are the perfect size for matcha: slightly bigger than an espresso cup, but much smaller than a coffee cup. They have an off-center, asymmetrical design that not only feels great in the hand, it serves to highlight the beauty of the matcha.

It is sheer delight to slurp matcha from these things. I think matcha reaches its fullest potential when frothed in a creamer and then poured into small, preheated cups. I like to preheat them with boiling water as I wait for the water to cool a bit before making the matcha. They feel even better when they’re warm, and the tea stays warmer longer.

The breakaway approach to matcha has nothing to do with ceremonial procedures that are in fact a kind of proprietary intellectual property controlled by family lineages in Japan.  I think of it more along the lines of how Italians feel about espresso: as a delicious, epicurean, and casual little treat/pick-me-up. We will eschew nearly all the customary rules regarding the preparation and enjoyment of matcha, and reinvent it entirely. In the same way that breakaway cooking breaks free from traditional culinary constraints, breakaway matcha aims to democratize matcha and to make it accessible to everyone who wishes to have an epicurean experience along the lines of a fine wine, except that it promotes wakefulness, not drowsiness, and happens to have — almost as an afterthought — off-the-charts health properties. But it’s important to distinguish culinary matcha — essentially everything for sale on the internet — from epicurean matcha meant only for drinking, not cooking. These ceramics are for the latter.

The culture of matcha is incredibly rich, and has a venerable history that is simply awesome in its beauty and relevance. But it can be, indeed must be, brought up to contemporary times, to be more suited to the way people live and work today. Enter these hauntingly beautiful ceramics, and “permission” to prepare the damn tea any way you like.

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Wasara — The World’s Coolest Disposable Tableware

I’m not a paper plate and paper cup kind of guy, and I imagine not too many reading this are, either. But one look at this elegant little cup — ideal for matcha, no less — sure spun me around on the possibilities of disposable AND biodegradable tableware.

The Wasara series of  single-use tableware is pretty freaking elegant. It’s made from 100-percent renewable, “tree-free” materials: a combo of bamboo, reed pulp, and something called bagasse, a substance leftover from  the sugar-refining process that’s typically thrown away as waste.

This stuff hits all the sweet spots of good design: it’s clean, crisp, utterly utilitarian, and minimalist. It feels good, and stable, in your hands. It’s got lovely texture.  It’s thin, paper-light, and yet robust; it feels terrible and wrong to throw it away after only one use.  And it goes right into the compost pile, not the garbage, not even the recycling bin. Designed (and made) in Japan by Shinichiro Ogata.

Do disposable plates get any better than this?

Branch Home in SF is the exclusive US distributor of this rather stunning series (disclaimer: Branch’s founder, Paul Donald, is a friend. But he didn’t ask for a feature in this space — Wasara is featured because it’s gorgeous, and useful to breakaway cooks everywhere).

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The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen … 99 Cents Till Monday!

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The good people at Vook are offering some love: a Valentine’s Day special on the Breakaway Japanese Kitchen. For anyone who doesn’t already have this fun little app for Iphones, Ipads, and the web, it features a bunch of videos of me making dishes from The BJK, with full recipes.  I don’t think it’ll ever get cheaper than 99 cents.

Happy Valentines Day to everyone — cook something nice for your sweetie, please.

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Great Food from a Dorm Room? Yes! (Guest Post by Lida Wu)

Breakaway cooking isn’t about following an exact recipe; it’s about seeing what you can come up with regardless of what “type” of cooking it is. And what better place for breakaway cooking than a dorm room?

Now, hear me out. When I first discovered that I had been placed in the one dorm that didn’t have a kitchen, I was pretty freaked out. I mean, the dining hall isn’t that bad, but it’s the motions of cooking, the idea of an actual meal rather than snippets of this-and-that from the salad bar that keep me sane. I knew I had to take drastic action. So here’s a list of things college students can do to radically increase the quality of the food we eat.

  • Invest in an induction burner. Now, these amazing devices are completely fire safe. On the other hand, Fire Safety doesn’t know that. So I keep it under my bed.
  • Get a rice cooker. I grew up eating rice, so a meal without rice is like a sandwich without bread, and rice cookers have steamer inserts that you can use to steam vegetables while the rice is cooking. One pot cooking indeed! You can use a rice cooker instead of a microwave, which I don’t even have/bother with.
  • Convert your desk and bookshelves into a pantry. This requires a little planning, but an extra bookshelf can be used for things like vinegar, chili paste, and oil, while you can fill your drawers with spices, miscellaneous dried ingredients, plates, and utensils.
  • Become a vegetable hoarder. I don’t eat much meat anyway, but I can’t cook it in my room for obvious reasons. On the other hand, buying lots of groceries when you’re on a meal plan gets expensive. Behold: yet another opportunity to break the rules! With a salad bar filled with things like raw broccoli and cubed tofu, it’s a cook’s paradise. Because you don’t have to do annoying things like parboil and chop, there is absolutely no excuse not to carry around a Tupperware so you can make stir-fry later. Just don’t get caught: on one occasion when I wasn’t subtle enough, some manager chastised me, “this isn’t a grocery store!” (It isn’t? I thought.)
  • When prepared ingredients aren’t an option, the dining hall has whole vegetables on display. Yes, I sometimes take them. Yes, maybe I’m not supposed to—but why on earth is there an entire rack of raw onions next to the bagels?
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to be a little crazy. Don’t have a sieve? A (clean) mesh laundry bag works just as well. Don’t have any Thai spices for curry? Turns out that sage and cloves in coconut milk make a savory dish taste almost like gingerbread.
  • When you’re ready, have a dinner party. Sure, you might be eating off plastic plates and sitting on the floor, but is good company really about tablecloths and cutlery? No, it’s not. And when you can still make dishes like Moroccan tagine with dried apricots and Chai-spiced vanilla pudding, who is going to complain?

So that’s my bit on cooking in college. When I finally went home for winter break, I cooked a million things that would be impossible to make on an induction burner (hummus, whole wheat pita, grilled mackerel, etc.). And while I’d like to say it was 100% bliss — and, in many respects, it was — I did miss the challenge of cranking out great food in my room.

It’s good to be back.

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Lida Wu is a freshman at Wesleyan, and blogs at the fabulously entertaining www.octopusgourmet.com.

(Editor’s note: guest posts are always welcome — send your breakaway-related ideas to Eric)

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